What Was New York City Like in 1670?


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Daniel Denton, A Brief Description of NEW-YORK: Formerly Called New-Netherlands, 1670. Book. New-York Historical Society Library, LIB.Y.1670.DenIn 1670, New York had been New York for just six years—the name changed to honor the Duke of York when English forces seized control of the Dutch colony.  But the city was open for business, and many back in Europe were curious about this center of trade across the Atlantic, open in the midst of the Age of Exploration.

Daniel Denton was a town clerk in Jamaica, Long Island, and from 1665-1666 served as justice of the peace for New York. He returned to England briefly in 1670, where he composed this pamphlet, “A Brief Description of New-York,” aimed at encouraging English settlers to come to the New World.

Some of the language is particularly idyllic, describing the area as filled with “divers sorts of singing birds, whose chirping notes salute the ears of Travellers with an harmonious discord.” The city was also considerably less crowded: “there is but one town upon it consisting of English and French, but is capable of entertaining more inhabitants,” and “betwixt [Albany] and New York…is as good Corn land as the World affords, enough to entertain Hundreds of families.” However, he does mention that anyone wishing to settle here should bring their own supplies of nails, glass, and clothing!

Denton devotes some time to the Native American population, writing about their customs, language, and crops (though he notes that “where the English come to settle, a Divine Hand makes way for them, by removing or cutting off the Indians-either by Wars one with the other, or by some raging mortal Disease”). Ultimately, Denton seems to be one of the earliest adapters of the American Dream, enthusiastically advertising the opportunities for wealth and freedom that New York has to offer. He writes, “How many poor people in the world would think themselves happy, had they an Acre or two of land, whilst here is hundreds, nay thousands of Acres, that would invite inhabitants.” Many took his advice and settled here—so many that now it’s impossible to get a seat on the subway!

Illustration: Daniel Denton, A Brief Description of NEW-YORK: Formerly Called New-Netherlands, 1670. Book. New-York Historical Society Library, LIB.Y.1670.Den

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